R. Kelly and Mob Justice

I was on spring break last week, so I made the mistake of sitting down and watching some TV for the first time since Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s just my ineptitude with a remote, but aside from Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism, the only topic that seemed up for discussion was R. Kelly and the charges made against him. (I also made the mistake of watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” quixotically expecting a Spike Lee movie to rise above the level of a comic book, but alas, wrong again. More on that fiasco some other time.)

Here’s an obvious point about guilt and innocence when it comes to criminal charges: if you’re going to try someone for a criminal allegation in the court of public opinion–a very big and very dubious if–you have to distinguish clearly between four mutually exclusive things:

  • the case against him,
  • the case in his defense,
  • the set of known facts that don’t easily fit either of the first two categories, and
  • the unknowns.

The least you can do is to try to do justice to the facts in all four categories, rather than fixating on, say, the case against him to the exclusion of everything else. There are complications here about how broadly or narrowly to understand each category, but even if we set those aside, there’s more than enough complexity here to keep a competent journalist busy for awhile. Continue reading

Je Diffame: The Case of Ilhan Omar

Here’s the text of a letter I sent to Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) on the Ilhan Omar controversy and (then) pending legislation intended to censure her. I sent a similarly-worded letter to my own congressional representative, Tom Malinowski. I’ve listed some useful readings on the controversy after the text of the letter. Here is a useful backgrounder to the controversy, from The New York Times. Here is the draft of the congressional resolution I had in front of me as I wrote the letter below. This is the IHRA “Working Definition of Antisemitism” referenced in the draft resolution, and criticized in the fourth paragraph of my letter.  Continue reading

The Weaponization of Anti-Semitism

Here’s an informative podcast interview with my friend Steve Shalom, a political scientist at William Paterson University (Wayne, New Jersey), and an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey. You have to scroll down a few clicks past the bio and the Banksy visual for the podcast itself.

What Steve says in the interview about anti-Semitism strikes me as one instance of many of the over-emphasis on race in American political discourse–not only to the exclusion of other sorts of identity, like gender and class, but to the exclusion of a straightforward focus on ethico-political issues as such. In other words, we not only have a tendency to focus on race above all other things, but to use our focus on race to distract attention from equally important things. It becomes easy to forget that sometimes an issue is just an issue. Continue reading

“It’s What We Do”: Film Screening and Pot Luck Dinner

For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse, especially if one of the many is bringing biryani and naan from Nirala’s of Elmwood Park.  –Aristotle, Politics, III.11

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Reason Papers Vol. 40:2 Out

The Winter 2018 issue of Reason Papers is now out, care of Shawn Klein and Carrie-Ann Biondi. Contents include Part II of a symposium on Stoicism, yet another hair-raisingly frightening/deeply counter-intuitive paper by Steve Kershnar, and some book reviews, including a longish one on sexual ethics by my friend Ray Raad.

Stoicism, atrocities, sex: in short, something for everyone. Check it out.

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I Won’t Drive The Roundabout

A couple of days ago, my Facebook friend Gary Chartier posted this article from USA Today on increasing speed limits on American highways. As it happens, I’m at work on a paper on a traffic-related blog post I wrote here a few months ago, to the effect that police tailgating ought to be regarded as a form of legal entrapment. To that end, I’ve been reading a lot about cars, roads, road safety, traffic, tailgating, police chases, and entrapment. Research aside, I happen to be an unapologetic traffic-ethics bigot inclined to the view that when it comes to driving, it’s my way or the highway. So naturally, I leapt at the chance to pontificate on Gary’s post.

I think higher speed limits have a paradoxical effect. The higher the speed limit, the greater the generalized fear of driving; the greater the generalized fear, the greater the vigilance with which people drive; the greater the vigilance, the fewer fatal (high speed) accidents. (The general pattern has been statistically demonstrated.) Unfortunately, when there are accidents at that speed, they’re more likely than usual to be fatal. In New Jersey, higher speed limits have led to fewer fatalities. That said, I don’t think higher speed limits are a legitimate way of reducing fatalities; I call it “regulation by terror-induced vigilance.” It’s like reducing crime rates through extremely aggressive methods of deterrence.

Incredibly, Nathan Byrd, another of Gary’s FB friends, had the audacity to question my claims right there on Facebook. Continue reading

Justice as Fairness

I’m wondering what readers think of this case:

A judge has sided with a New Jersey teenager accused of cheating on the ACT exams, saying a clause test-takers must sign giving up their rights to sue the testing company is “unconscionable” and “void as against public policy.”

The ruling from Somerset County Judge Michael Rogers means Readington Township teenager Brendan Clare can seek damages from ACT Inc., the company that runs the test and threatened to invalidate his scores. It also opens the door for teenagers across the country to attempt to sue the testing company citing Rogers’ ruling.

A somewhat more informative article from Inside Higher Ed.

The contract in question strikes me as substantively unfair, but I wonder about the use of unconscionability to void it. For purposes of this post, set aside the possibility of fraud, and focus just on the issue of unconscionability. It seems to me that the use of unconscionability here raises the following problem. Continue reading

Drivin’ and Cryin’: Bumps on the Road to Pot Legalization

I’m all in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana, indeed for the eventual legalization of recreational pot use, but the closer we come to achieving that goal, the greater the number of practical quasi-dilemmas we’ll have to face that we’d never had to consider before. These quasi-dilemmas may not be conclusive considerations against full legalization, but they can’t be minimized, either.

It’s common for advocates of legalization to compare pot with alcohol: if we accept recreational alcohol consumption, why not accept recreational consumption of pot? In many ways (it’s plausibly argued), alcohol is worse than pot. If we overlook the problems with alcohol and allow recreational alcohol consumption anyway, it seems inconsistent to fixate on the similar problems with pot in order to ban the recreational use of pot. Continue reading

Psychotherapy and Chronic Pain: An Interview with Alison Bowles

Here’s an online interview with my wife (and PoT blogger) Alison Bowles, conducted by Raymond Barrett of the Telehealth Certification Institute in Canandaigua, New York. Alison is a psychotherapist in private practice with an on-ground presence in Manhattan, and a developing online practice.

The interview focuses on an under-discussed issue in therapy–therapy with people suffering from chronic pain. We hear so much about the “opioid crisis” that we forget that it’s overshadowedby a long shot–by a chronic pain crisis. There’s also a dangerous trend in mental health of pretending that chronic pain conditions can be managed and resolved by the magic of mindfulness and meditation. Though many studies suggest that such claims are nonsense, that hasn’t stopped the mindfulness gurus from making them: Continue reading

Calls for Papers: ISME, NASSP

Given the interests of PoT readers and bloggers, I thought I’d call attention to this CFP, for what promises to be a knock-out conference at Notre Dame this summer:


MacIntyre is a former mentor and Lear is a personal hero of mine, so I’m hoping to pull something together for this conference, and would love to see some PoT people there as well. Continue reading